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Prefix Languages.

differences of sex.

The important influence which this improvement in language has had on the formation of myths can only be explained further on; at present we will merely remark that the requirements of a grammatical gender induced a keener observation of external objects. Traces of a distinction of gender, at least in the pronoun for the third person, may be found in Tarawa,22 the language spoken on the Gilbert or Kingsmill Islands; others in South America among the Abipones, 23 the Arowaks, and the Maypures, 24, and in Khasi, the language of the Khasians of Assam. 25 In Africa the languages of the Hottentots, the Hausa negroes, and the ancient Egyptians, are remarkable for their twofold grammatical gender. The distinction of the sexes is the most important advance in the linguistic structure of the latter highly civilized people. In other respects the roots in ancient Egyptian are mainly monosyllabic, and many of them may be used as substantive, verb, and adjective, as in Chinese. The same syllable denotes to write, a writing, and a writer, while another may mean to live, alive, or life. Some roots, however, serve exclusively as substantive or verb. A prefixed article, which is, however, only loosely attached, marks the substantive, but there is as yet no declension, prefixed prepositions acting as substitutes. In the formation of the verb, pronouns are loosely attached to the radical, but tense and mood are expressed by prefixing auxiliary words. But as these pronominal suffixes may also be appended to substantives, and in that case indicate possession, the separation of the verb from the substantive is not yet fully effected. Ran-i may be translated, I name, or my name; while literally it signifies my naming.26 In many of its verbal constructions this language is as


21 In the Algonkin language also a distinction is made between animate and inanimate objects, but among the former are reckoned the sun, the moon, the stars, thunder and lightning, sacrificial stones, eagles' feathers, tobacco, pipes, drums, and wampums. Tylor, Primitive Culture, vol. i. p. 274.

22 Horatio Hale, United States Exploration Expedition, Ethnography. Philadelphia, p. 441. 1846.

23 Dobrizhoffer, Geschichte der Abiponer, vol. ii. p. 200–206.

24 Bleek, Journal of the Anthropological Institute, vol. i. p. 93.

25 Bleek, p. 67.

26 Whitney, Study of Language, p. 342.

ill-developed as, and sometimes more ambiguous than Chinese, which ensures perspicuity by its strict rules of syntax. But it stands higher than Chinese, inasmuch as the defining suffixes have entirely lost their independence as well as their original form and import, having for the most part been reduced to a few consonants by dint of contraction and curtailment, so that they now serve only for grammatical purposes.27

There is a wide chasm between the best developed of the lower languages and those of the Semitic and Aryan families. In these the defining element is mostly firmly welded together with the principal root. The root is completely lost in the substantive and the verb, and a real inflection and a real transformation have arisen, though they are effected in totally different ways by Aryans and Semites. The Semitic languages of Western Asia are recognizable by the circumstance that their radicals always exhibit three consonants, although the third is often scantily or abortively represented. Vowels affecting the definition are interposed before, between, or after these consonants. As Steinthal happily expresses it, the consonant is the substance of the thought while the vowel invests it with its shape. The former might be compared to the block of marble, the latter to the sculptor. This may be illustrated by an example frequently employed. For everything that refers to the shedding of human blood Arabic applies the triple group of consonants, q-t-l. Thence are formed:—

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In the verb the middle vowel bestows a transitive or intransitive signification; by the vowel of the first syllable of the radical the active (a) is distinguished from the passive (u), and the vowel of the last consonant denotes the mood, u expressing the

27 Whitney, Study of Language, p. 342.

Semitic Languages.

indicative, a the subjunctive, while in the imperative, which conveys a demand, the vowel totally disappears. The other transformations of the verb are effected by prefixes and suffixes, which also have a phonetic influence on the vowels of the syllables to which they are prefixed or appended. Terminal syllables distinguish singular and plural as well as the three cases, nominative, genitive, and accusative.


We may well wonder at the manner in which, in the construction of the Semitic languages, the human intellect has been able to bestow a symbolical meaning on the sounds produced by the organs of speech, and, as it were, inspire this apparatus for the interchange of ideas. The evolutionary history of this process is as yet entirely obscure, for there are not even any conjectures as to the earlier stages which have been surmounted in the formation of language.

An equal or, as many think, a higher rank is occupied by the Indo-Germanic or Aryan languages akin to Sanscrit. Their superiority over the Semitic group may be primarily founded on their recognition of three instead of two genders, or rather of sexual and sexless objects. But this superiority has been again partially lost in the course of time. With few exceptions modern English still distinguishes gender only in men and animals. In the German language also, as Steinthal remarks, the good times are past in which zweene was still said for two men, zwo for two women, zwei for two children, or for a man and woman. Armenian ignores all distinction of gender. 28 It is more significant that Aryan languages alone possess a verb to be, which is wanting even in Semitic languages, so that the latter cannot express the idea of the graciousness of God by the words God is gracious, but are obliged to say, God the gracious, or God, he the gracious, so that in such languages it would be impossible to maintain "cogito, ergo sum."

The evolutionary history of this group of languages is much more easily seen than in those of the Semitic family. All inquiries tend to show that in the dark times of past ages our forefathers effected their interchange of ideas by means of a comparatively

28 Mordtmann, Allgem. Zeitung, p. 6374. 1871.

small number of monosyllabic roots, and that their language was then in the same stage as is now Chinese. Yet the separation of the pronominal roots took place so early that many observers regard it as primordial.29 Jacob Grimm's idea, that the stock of the root tu is reducible to the conception of being great, of growing, so that du properly signifies magnitude, and in a manner represents the titles of modern days, such as your grace, is supported by Kleinpaul with the observation that from civility the Chinese abases himself and, instead of I have, uses the expressions servant has, slave has, blockhead has.30 The formation of words originally took place by the agglutination of the defining root at the end, while prefixes were only very sparingly employed, and this chiefly in negatives with un, as in ungrateful, or a as in atheism; also by antecedent prepositions, such as forecast, outspread, overthrow,31 finally, by the prefixed a or a of the so-called augment in the primitive past tense. German has many prefixes of which the original meaning has become unintelligible, such as beschreiben (to describe), ergründen (to fathom), zerfleischen (to lacerate), verkaufen (to sell), etc. The original meaning of these auxiliary words has long been forgotten, and they are therefore serviceable only as defining syllables, or before the principal root. But in modern times a deterioration of morphological structure has taken place, especially in Germanic languages. When the inflectional terminations had been worn down beyond recognition, linguistic structure, as a compensation for significant affixes and reduplications, seized on a medium for the definition of meaning which had previously been only casual and incidental, namely, the metamorphosis of vowels. The conversion of a o u into ä ö ü was employed in the formation of the plural and the subjunctive (vater, väter; mutter, mütter; konnte, könnte; truge, trüge). By modifications (as in English woman, women), various functions were fulfilled, especially in marking the time, in expressions referring to actions-hebe, hob, Abhub (lift, lifted, leavings); gebe, gab, gibst (give, gave, givest); graben, Grube (dig, ditch). The

29 Whitney, Study of Language, p. 261.

30 Zeitschrift für Völkerpsychologie, p. 363. 1869.

31 Whitney, Study of Language, pp. 256, 257.

Acquirement of Language.

German language thus acquired the use of a metamorphosis of vowels very like that in the Semitic; possibly the Semitic languages owe their symbolical use of vowels to the same cause.



In order to separate the manifold phenomena of the human race and to arrange them in groups, we require persistent and distinctive characters. Hence, if languages are constantly modified, so that not only the meaning of certain phonetic combinations is altered within a suspiciously short period, but even the structure of the languages may be changed, we can scarcely hope to employ language as a means of classification. We know that before the Roman dominion the inhabitants of France spoke a Celtic language, and exchanged it later for a new Latin tongue. The inhabitants of Germany eastwards of the Elbe belonged, some two thousand years ago, to the Sclavonian family. On the other hand, the inhabitants of Iceland and Norway spoke the same language eight hundred years ago. In Iceland it has been preserved almost without alteration, whereas in Norway it has been developed into Danish. Even if, in this case, we supposed that these metamorphoses took place within a group of languages which were primordially related, and that the transition was thus exceptionally easy, we must remember that English is spoken by the descendants of Africans, who were brought as slaves to the United States, and that Spanish is spoken by many of the aborigines of America. Were we therefore to classify nations according to language only, we should be obliged to place negroes in the same division with English, and pure-bred Indians with the descendants of Roumanian Europeans.

Hence, before we infer any sort of relationship from identity or similarity of language, we must ascertain as an historical fact that the identity of language has not been produced by the requirements of social intercourse. Even where we need not suspect this, language must be regarded as a distinctive mark only of the second order. Community of language in tribes and races


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